One week after two men were killed defending two women from anti-Muslim slurs on public transit in Portland, Oregon, a “free speech” rally and counter protests filled the city center.
Four separate rallies including two titled “Trump Free Speech” and “No Nazis on Our Streets” took place Sunday, all in the city’s center.
Riot police blocked crosswalks and lined a number of downtown parks as demonstrators from opposite sides chanted slogans and waved flags and signs.
“There will be a robust law enforcement presence due to online threats of violence between different groups,” the Portland Police wrote in a statement in the days ahead of the rallies.
Homeland Security forces also were present.
Barely an hour after the rallies began, Portland police already had made one arrest, seizing multiple weapons, including a knife and brass knuckles.
Later in the day, Chapman Park, where the “No Nazis on Our Streets” rally was taking place, was shut down by police after reports of projectiles being thrown. There were no details regarding the projectiles.
Witnesses told VOA that tear gas had been fired by police, but that they had seen no further escalation. They did not know why the tear gas had been used.
“I’m honestly terrified of violence,” Lauren Cary, a Portland resident attending the “No Nazis on Our Streets” rally told VOA. “There have been talks of the oathbreakers and other militia groups showing up.”
“But I also think it’s important to say ‘get the hell out’ of my city to Nazi scum,” she added.
No ‘place for bigotry or hatred’
A number of small altercations took place between the opposing demonstrations, the majority of them verbal assaults, according to The Oregonian.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler had asked the federal government to revoke permits for the “Trump Free Speech Rally,” which is taking place in a park under federal jurisdiction. Wheeler said he also reached out to the organizers of the rally and personally asked them to cancel it, particularly in light of the recent tragedy.
“I urge them to ask their supporters to stay away from Portland,” Wheeler wrote in a Facebook post earlier this week. “There is never a place for bigotry or hatred in our community, and especially not now.”
The rally did not heed the mayor’s calls.
On May 26, a man on a train in Portland targeted two teenagers with an anti-Muslim rant, then killed two people and wounded another who confronted him.
Portland Police have said one of the two young women on the train was wearing a hijab, and that the attacker ranted on many topics using “hate speech or biased language.”